SURVIVAL: an introduction to economic concepts
For the past few years I have used the following activity to introduce my Junior Cycle students to some key economic concepts. I have developed this activity based on something I came across online many years ago. I have refined it over time and have tried to make it accessible for Junior Cycle students.
In the past I’ve generally used this activity at the beginning of 3rd year, but this year I used it with my 1st year class. They enjoyed it immensely and seemed to understand both the concepts and the aim of the activity. This is very much a ‘doing’ activity and it will require students to move freely around the room in order to interact with each other and with the materials provided. It will not be a quiet class, but it a very engaging class which opens many possibilities for the effective teaching of economics. Just close the door and let them have fun with it! They will enjoy the activity and they should also learn a lot. The entire activity can be completed in a double class, or perhaps more ideally, two single classes.
This activity really ties in with the definition of economics (Strand 3) and explores the choices people make when faced with scarce resources (LO 3.1, 3.2). It also resonates with some Strand 1 concepts including needs and wants (LO 1.1).
I provide students with a 1 page handout and read through it with them at the beginning of the lesson. It reads as follows:
The entire class group has been lost on an Arctic island with little hope of rescue. THE OBJECTIVE IS SURVIVAL. In order to survive, each person must produce ONE FISH, ONE IGLOO and ONE PONCHO.
The handout also contains clear instructions on how to produce each of the items required for survival. All items are made from paper or light card. (see photo below)
The Fish: represents the need for food. I have created a stencil for this item, which I provide to students and they are allowed to trace it. The fish must be produced on a paper of a specific colour and the fish eye must be a different colour. You will need to instruct the students during the initial briefing about which colours to use for each item. This very much depends on what’s available to you.
The Poncho: represents the need for clothing. This must be measured and cut out as per the instructions on the handout. Initially this item required stapling, but I have since done away with this aspect and I allow students to make it as a one-piece item.
The Igloo: represents the need for shelter. This needs to be measured and cut out as per instructions on the handout. Students must draw lines to represent blocks of ice.
Before they begin the activity, I generally show the students examples of these items (which I have prepared). These templates are made to scale and will provide students with a better understanding of what is required. It is very important to emphasise to students that the reproduction of these items must be exact in every detail. Any items which do not meet the specifications will not count towards survival.
Students must only use the material provided by you at the beginning of the activity. They should all be placed together on a desk. For a class of 25 students you will need to provide the following materials / resources to students:
8 – 10 A4 sheets of light green* paper (for the fish). The stencil size allows for 3 or 4 fish per sheet.
8– 10 A4 sheets of yellow* paper (for the poncho).
8- 10 A4 sheets of white paper (for the igloo).
1 A4 sheet of blue* paper (for the fish eye).
6 or 7 pencils.
2 compasses (from geometry sets).
1 glue stick. This is used to glue to eye to the fish. The lid of the glue can be used as a stencil, or you can provide a small coin.
4 – 6 pairs of scissors.
*You can use whatever colours you have available, but it is important to try use different colours for each item. This helps ensure that these resources are scarce and can’t be used interchangeably.
Once you have read through the instructions and shown the templates to the students give those 20 minutes to complete the task. Emphasise again that in order to survive it is necessary for each student to have one fish, one poncho and one igloo at the end of the allocated time.
You will probably find that the activity descends into a free-for-all. Some students will grab many of the resources while others may have none at all. After a while students may ask if they can work together. This is allowed, though it is probably best just to tell students that they are allowed to work however they wish just so long as they have the required items at the end of the activity. You may also notice some evidence of barter and /or theft. There may also be a small number of students who are short on resources and simply sit in their seats for the duration. Unless absolutely necessary just ignore all of this and let the activity develop and conclude. Try just to stand back and observe the activity as the students complete their work.
Once the 20 minutes has elapsed the students must cease all work. Ask any students who have all 3 of the required items to come forward. Check that the items meet the requirements and make note of the number of survivors from the group. My experience suggests it is likely to be a small number.
At this point it’s important to collect all of the materials, including unused paper and any work in progress. It is also necessary to gather up all completed fish, ponchos and igloos which have not been brought forward by the ‘survivors’. It is very important that students do not retain any materials or completed items. This is because the activity will be repeated after a short period of reflection and discussion.
TIMEFRAME (35 - 40 minutes)
Introduction: 5 mins – read the handout and explain the activity. Don’t inform the students that it is related to economics.
Making the items: 20 minutes – allow time for students to produce food, clothing and shelter as required.
Clean up: 5 minutes – Gather all completed resources, count survivors, collect all other resources and materials.
Reflection and discussion: 5 minutes - Discuss the activity with the students. Try to tease out what worked well and what didn’t. Discuss how the students could increase the survival rate. Ideally the students will develop a strategy for this. This is likely to involve greater levels of teamwork and greater sharing of resources. For example the students may suggest creating three groups and perhaps dividing the resources according to the requirements of each. From experience, the igloos tend to be the most difficult and slowest item to make. The ponchos are generally the quickest.
Once a strategy has been developed, allow the students to repeat the activity. This can be completed in the next class, or the second half of a double class.
Hopefully they will work more co-operatively and more efficiently. It is almost certain that there will be a greater number of survivors second time round. Ideally the entire group will survive, with time to spare. There is also likely to be increased specialisation of labour.
LINKS TO THE SPECIFICATION:
In subsequent classes you can introduce the definition of economics and ask the students to consider how the survival activity relates to this definition. They will generally identify that they had needs, that their resources were limited and that they had to make choices about how best to allocate those resources.
You can also use it to illustrate the factors of production:
Land = Fish / Ice (paper) etc.
Labour = the students (workers)
Capital = Scissors, compass, ruler (tools and equipment)
Enterprise = the students will provide this insofar as they will combine land, labour and capital in order to produce good which satisfy their needs.
With an enthusiastic class you could also examine their actions and choices in greater depth. For example:
Who provided and allocated all of the resources? Does this represent a centrally planned or free market approach?
What happens to any surplus individual items during the first attempt at the activity? For instance, some students may have completed only 1 or 2 of the required items at the end of the activity. If these individual items are combined it will be possible for some extra students to survive. If so, how will this be decided? This deals with allocation of finished goods.
If the group produces surplus items or has the capacity to do so in round 2, you could explore the possibilities associated with this situation. For example, if there was another Island nearby, it may be possible for surplus resources to be exported and exchanged for additional goods which will satisfy more needs and wants.
I use this activity because it really helps students to get a feel for the key concepts of economics. It also assists my teaching….and both the students and I always enjoy doing it.
If you read my previous blog entry 'All changed, changed utterly', you‘ll be aware of my mixed feelings about teaching the new Junior Cycle Business Studies specification. Well thankfully my worst fears were not realized and I am now reminding myself not to worry so much in future!
At the outset I asked the students to complete the anticipation exercise at the beginning of the Chapter 1 Student Activity Book, find a definition for ‘resources’ and then make a list of some resources which are available to them. I am happy to report that they did this brilliantly and with great enthusiasm.
We had a chat about the definition and we looked at the different versions offered by students. The interactive white board was used to record everything. In the end we focused on the key elements and common features from a variety of student definitions (“things we have”, “things we use”, “they can help us...", ”they are scarce...”, "they are useful/valuable” etc.). I had to ask a few questions to get the students thinking about what we use resources for and following a number of specific examples, one student eventually suggested “whatever your goals are”.
When it came to their resources, students managed to come up with a very long list which included items under most of the main resource-type headings. They offered things like money, computers, the internet, mobile phones, trees, community centres and even ‘people’ as possible resources. Nobody specifically mentioned 'time' but when I suggested it, most agreed that it fitted our definition and should be added to the list.
The students seemed happy with the idea that access to resources was more important than ownership and they also understood that knowing how to use resources was essential. Some made reference to the illustration on page 2 (fig.1.1) of Time for Business. We discussed further examples offered by students, from their experiences and their imagination. As I was keen to encourage student involvement at this early stage I was happy to stand back and listen. I was reminded (in a good way) about just how imaginative some first year minds can be!
A Missed Opportunity?
One area where I could have focused more attention was the impact of their use of resources on others. When teaching this topic next time, I will make a specific point of referring to it at this stage. While it was discussed in much greater detail in the subsequent ‘needs and wants’ debate, I think I missed an opportunity to broaden the discussion here.
On reflection I was perhaps too focused on keeping the discussion ‘personal’ to them and neglected the obvious links to LO’s 1.9 and 3.1 which arose here. Also, when students completed the traffic light review at end of chapter, this was the most common ‘orange light’ indicated by students. Note however that chapters 15 and 40 deal with this aspect of the learning outcome in great detail, so I am not concerned that this key message will be lost, but just that I missed an opportunity to signpost it with students at this early stage.
Freedom, Flexibility and Layering!
If you wanted to tackle Learning Outcome (LO) 1.1 in a less linear fashion you could indeed take a detour into those other chapters, but I think it’s very important to embed the concept of personal resources with students first. Only then would I consider looking at the impact on others which arises from the students' own use of resources.
Remember also that the Business Studies Specification allows for great freedom and flexibility when it comes to WHAT and HOW you teach…. it is even the case that the LO’s provided may not be exhaustive. What we as authors have tried to do with the textbook is provide teachers with a resource which covers as much relevant material as possible. Please remember though, that the material provided is neither prescriptive not exhaustive. You are encouraged to cut, expand or modify it in order to ensure it fits the context of your classroom and students and the time available. I am very aware of this ‘time’ issue already and know I will need to manage it carefully as the year unfolds.
Generally speaking students had a clear understanding of the needs versus wants debate and were very engaged by it. It was a little harder for them to think about their future needs and wants, but most were able to offer realistic examples. Overall it is important for them to realise that their needs and wants will change over time and this understanding will be reinforced later when dealing with personal financial life cycles (Chapter 4). This also illustrates the importance of ‘layering’ when tackling this new Business Studies Specification. This means there are lots of situations where concepts are revisited in later chapters or Strands. This is a deliberate teaching strategy and it is designed to promote deeper understanding and recall of key concepts. Do not be afraid to teach students similar or closely related material. It is useful revision for them and will help you as the teacher to gauge their level of understanding and recall. In some cases it may also test their ability to apply existing knowledge to a new situation. This should be one of the ultimate goals for our students and suggests that deep and genuine learning has taken place.
When discussing the impact of our choices and resource use on others, most students accepted that everyone should be treated fairly and resources should be divided equally. Two students expressed a different view and felt that everyone should look out for themselves and just get what they can. This generated a short (and heated) debate amongst the students and the majority view seemed to win out in the end.
Financial and opportunity costs were well understood and all students were quickly able to offer other examples. We watched the Paul Pogba opportunity cost video on the Time for Business blog which students enjoyed and I think it greatly helped their understanding of the concept.
Read more of my reflections of teaching the first chapter on 'Getting the most of out a valuable resource - part two'.
Co-author of Time for Business Joe Stafford teaches Junior Cycle Business Studies in a mixed ability setting in a co-educational school with four 40 minute classes per week.
Learning Outcome 1.1 states:
Review the personal resources available to them to realise their needs and wants and analyse the extent to which realising their needs and wants may impact on individuals and society.
NOTE: As the material required to deal with this Learning Outcome is quite diverse and relates to more than one strand of the specification, we have not attempted to provide it all in a single chapter in the Time for Business textbook. As authors, we feel that using a single chapter would only allow for a narrow and superficial overview of the topic.
Page xviii of the Teacher Resource Book (page 315 of the online version) provides a diagram to inform teachers which chapters contain material related to each Learning Outcome. For example, chapters 1, 15 and 16 (Strand 1) deal with individual resources and choices, chapters 3, 4 and 5 look at the issues from a household perspective, while chapter 34 (Stand 3) broadens the perspective even further to consider the economic implications of the use of resources.
Once they have studied a number of related chapters, students should have a broad understanding of the term 'resources' in an economic sense and be very well prepared to deal with a wide range of questions and activities related to this learning outcome. This material can be covered at any time during the Junior Cycle and teachers have total freedom and discretion when deciding on the sequencing of Learning Outcomes and associated chapters. The guiding rule is to deal with each learning outcome at a time and in a manner which is appropriate to the context of your class.
In our view, the following are the key ideas and messages for this topic:
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